I have been seeing a therapist for many years, since my mother died in 2013. I have seen other therapists at various times in my life, but this one is the only one I've ever seen consistently and on a long-term basis.
One of the things she has had to drill into me with a jackhammer was the importance of self-care.
Before starting to see her, I bottled up all my emotions and shut them away, believing that emotions were bad. It was like Tom Hanks was living in my head screaming, "There's no crying in baseball!" except it was not just baseball but everywhere, all the time. Crying and feeling were never okay.
This stance was created and maintained by my parents. I remember being told as a small child, "I'll give you something to cry about!" pretty often.
This stigma followed me even into adulthood. The day my mom was told her pancreatic cancer was inoperable, I cried. I knew the statistics of the disease; I had studied it for years, ever since Randy Pausch gave his Last Lecture in 2008. As we walked out of that doctor's office, my dad looked at me and said, "Stop crying. You don't have anything to cry about. Just wait and see what happens."
I coped with my pent-up feelings by eating and spending money until I weighed 406 pounds and had over $50,000 in credit card debt. Obviously, these two strategies did not work out very well for me, and I was always in a bad mood.
Back to my therapist. In the early days of my therapy, I had no self-care. I was also extremely depressed and fairly recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My mental health wasn't crumbling; it had done crumbled.
To say that self-care wasn't on my radar was an understatement. I didn't know the term; I didn't know the actions. I did the minimum I needed to do to get by, and I was an emotional wreck all the time.
What is self-care?
My therapist told me, over and over and over until it sunk in, that I needed to schedule things to make myself happy, for relaxation, to refresh and renew my spirit, and to take care of my mind and body. That's self-care.
I remember one session in which she told me that I was seeing the results of a stressful situation in my life. My work from home agreement had been revoked by a miserable new boss, and I was having to go in to my office five days a week. I was away from my kids for 12 hours a day and dealing with inconsistent nannies and intense feelings of guilt.
My mental health suffered, and my physical health suffered.
"You need more self-care than ever right now," she said. "A self-care routine balances out all the stress and negative emotions that you're feeling."
That's when I first made a list of self-care ideas. I recorded 105 ideas for things I could do to calm and center myself, to boost my mood, to make myself feel good, to show myself the love, grace, and compassion that I show to my friends and family every day.
They range from new and old hobbies to rituals and routines to special treats to everyday pleasures.
By working these tasks into my daily routine every single day, I have become a much better version of myself. I'm a testament to the power of these self-care activities.
I've updated that list and made it into a beautiful watercolor printable that you can use to prioritize your well-being and make a self-care habit for yourself.
You will notice on the printable that some of the items are marked with **. These items are listed below with a link to a resource that will help you learn or practice that skill.
110 Best Self-Care Ideas for Busy Women
- Draw/journal in a Bible.
- Learn a new hobby such as crochet.
- Knit on a loom or with needles.
- Take a nap.
- Write a bucket list.
- Read a book. (Here's a list of my favorite audiobooks for women.)
- Listen to a book. (Jump over here for a list of my favorite audiobooks.)
- Listen to soothing music. (I love the piano music of David Nevue!)
- Listen to worship music. (My favorites are Ellie Holcomb, Aaron Shust, and Cedarmont Worship for Kids – don't judge. I like Cedarmont because they are collections of popular music but sung by kids. I like the collections, okay?)
- Do something nice for someone.
- Write in a journal.
- Do a craft.
- Try a new recipe.
- Play with sand.
- Play a game.
- Play a board game. (Here are great board games for families with non-readers and for tweens, teens, & adults.)
- Play a card game.
- Read the Bible.
- Watch a funny movie.
- Watch a chick flick (I'm a huge chick flick fan – Return to Me, Sabrina, You've Got Mail, While You Were Sleeping, The American President, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. I could go on forever.)
- Listen to music of the rainforest, river, ocean, or thunder and lightning.
- Give yourself a back/neck massage.
- Give yourself a scalp massage.
- Help your husband.
- Try a video game.
- Practice gratitude by writing a gratitude list of 10 things you're thankful for.
- Choose a new healthy food to try.
- Decide on a morning routine complete with self-care, food, and exercise.
- Decide on a bedtime routine with relaxation and reflection.
- Take a long shower.
- Create a vision board.
- Find a yoga playlist on YouTube and follow along.
- Play with Play-Doh. (It's not just for kids.)
- Read a magazine.
- Binge watch a TV show. (Covert Affairs and When Calls the Heart are personal favorites.)
- Listen to the birds. Outside or music.
- Color in an adult coloring book.
- Write a note to a friend using a card and nice pen.
- Make a list of all the things you love.
- Play with a fidget toy.
- Find a YouTube playlist for mindful meditation.
- Declutter a corner or drawer.
- Bake something.
- Write a love letter. (Get a free list of almost 100 love letter prompts in the Healthy Marriage Solution.)
- Do a brain dump.
- Organize and remove the clutter from your closet.
- Turn off social media and go outside.
- Make a puzzle.
- Use a weighted blanket to relax for 10 minutes.
- Sit outside and watch the sunrise or sunset.
- Get a manicure and/or a pedicure.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Repeat positive affirmations.
- Light a candle in your favorite scent.
Of course, the printable features a full 110 self-care ideas. The ones above are only the ones that have ** on the list, meaning that there are links here that will help you to do those things.
I believe that self-care is the most important thing you can do in your day, bar none. Nurturing your mind, body, and spirit makes you better able to face your commitments with gusto.
However, please don't feel like you have to do all these things, ever. You don't. Just pick one thing you can start doing on a semi-regular basis to fill your cup. Maybe it's 5 minutes of exercise or 5 minutes or prayer. Just start somewhere, anywhere, and work your way up to taking better care of yourself.
Whatever you do, please start today. You'll thank yourself later.
For more self care recommendations (including book reviews), check out the Self Care Index.